Feeling anger is a normal part of your emotional spectrum. Service members may find that anger is a useful emotion during combat. However, once they return home, that anger — and the experiences that come with it — can cause problems. A recent webinar hosted by the Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury addressed these problems and potential solutions.
Signs of Anger
Anger can range in intensity from irritation to rage and can be helpful or harmful, depending on the situation. The body reacts to anger with increased adrenaline, alertness, heart rate and blood pressure. Certain physical reactions (a clenched jaw, muscle tension, shakiness, restlessness, agitation, etc.) can help signal feelings of anger, even if you are not aware of those feelings. Over time excessive anger can cause long-term health issues.
Service members who display anger may find it isolates them from others. Outbursts can feed future feelings of anger, and impair more constructive approaches to stress.
“Contrary to the myth that it is good to vent anger, when anger is expressed often it can become a habit,” said Monique Moore, a clinical psychologist with the Deployment Health Clinical Center (DHCC).
Coming back to a civilian environment from a deployed setting with certain expectations can trigger anger, Moore said. We may feel angry when we think that others should behave in certain ways, which are usually based on our own personal beliefs and experiences.
“In the military there is a chain of command and clear expectations for what everybody should or should not be doing,” Moore said. “In the civilian world the rules of conduct are less clear and how things should be done is more subjective.”
Reducing Vulnerability to Anger
DHCC Associate Director Mark Bates described ways to manage anger:
- STOP: Using the “STOP” method, remove yourself from situations that trigger your anger, evaluate the thoughts they cause, and plan for future incidents.
- Take a Time Out: Useful during stressful interactions, the “time-out” method involves explaining to another person that you need to take a step back and think about the situation. Let them know that the situation may be making you uncomfortable, and you intend to re-engage with them if you feel ready to later. “If you reassure them that you are taking the issue seriously and you explain you need time to think, most people can agree with this. I also think it conveys sincere intent to engage effectively with the other person,” Bates said.
- Communicate: Healthy communication with people who may trigger anger can also help you control that anger. “A lot of angry situations involve other people, and good communication is an important part of managing that anger,” Bates said. Healthy communication strategies include being fair and factual when describing what makes you angry; avoiding words like “always” or “never” out of anger; explaining clearly how you feel; and taking time to make sure the requests you make are fair and respectful.
- Take a Breath: Relaxation skills can be a big help for reducing anger. Grounding, healthy breathing and applied mindfulness can all help. Mobile apps such as Breathe2Relax and Mindfulness Coach, available through the National Center for Telehealth and Technology, can make incorporating these practices easier.
Want to learn more about anger and healthy coping strategies? Visit the DCoE webinar archive for the full transcript, slides and resources for this webinar.